A bad day for earthworms

June 26, 2011 • 11:32 am

Coincidentally (re the post below), reader Lou has sent me this amazing photo of a small caecilian trying to down a two-foot giant earthworm.  Obviously, the nom won’t succeed, but the caecilian is not in any danger, either.

The photo was taken by Luis Recalde, an employee of Lou’s foundation, EcoMinga, dedicated to preserving the biodiversity of Ecuador.  The location was one of the foundation’s reserves, Reserva Rio Zunac, Cordillera Abitagua, Tungurahua Province, eastern Ecuador. The caecilian is provisionally identified as Caecilia abitaguae, although the worm species remains unidentified.

In case you don’t know what a caecilian is, you should, for they’re amazing: they are legless amphibians!  They constitute their own order of amphibians (Gymnophiona), are carnivorous, nearly blind, and found widely through both the New and Old World tropics. Here’s their distribution:

Because they’re burrowing, their eyes are tiny and they have no ear openings.  Small sensory tentacles on the head help them detect prey.  Here’s an Attenborough video that gives a lot of information.

21 thoughts on “A bad day for earthworms

  1. According to the photographer, this caecilian bit the giant worm multiple times along its entire length, spending at least 20 minutes trying to finish it off. Luis got tired of sitting around watching it, so we don’t know how the story ended.

    This worm-attacking behavior has been seen by others as well, and worms may be the main dietary item for some caecilians (which can be much larger than this little one). There is some speculation that the bite may introduce venomous saliva.

  2. I was already glad I’m not an earthworm, but this fascinating post just adds to the list of reasons.

  3. That’s awesome. My family used to own some land in Ecuador (where I’m from) east enough from the Andes to be considered part of amazon, and we used to see earthworms like these after it rained. They are so big you would just mistake them for a hose, except it would be moving by itself. Thanks for the post!

  4. All right, someone has to say it:

    Never go in against a caecilian when death is on the line!

    1. Diane, our reserve guards are constantly running into amazing things. That’s why we equipped them with little point-and-shoot cameras. Luis has gotten incredibly good with it. He used to be a hunter, and now loves to hunt with his camera. He has managed to get great pictures of Spectacled Bears and amazing full-frame pictures of the very rare Black and Chestnut Eagle, all with that little camera. Recently he got a close-up of a sloth’s face by climbing a tree and literally sticking the camera in the sloth’s face.

      1. Wow! Please send more photos! And thank you for sending in this one–just amazing. I knew there was such a thing as a giant earth worm, but I didn’t know they got *that* big. Mercy!

  5. Professor Coyne,

    When you give the official Latinate names for an interesting critter, could you make a practice of also giving us some pronunciation advice?

    In this case, for example, which of the cees, if any, are hard k sounds, and which are soft? How do you pronounce the ae sound?

    Thank you.

  6. Snerk. There’s a great science fiction novel, Wyrm, in which an Italian-American character ponders, “What looks like a worm and acts like a worm but isn’t a worm?”

    And his girlfriend pipes up, “A caecilian!”

    “No ethnic slurs, please.”

    “Not a Sicilian! I’m sorry…”

    It has an amphisbaenia too.

  7. Please could anyone help to identify the giant earthworm (at least the genus)? I`m trying to put together a common species list for a private reserve near Mindo (northwest Ecuador), and these Earthworms are quite often seen throughout rainy season (so are the caecilians). I would be very thankful for your help/ guesses on that species…

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